Lady Chatterley

Lady Chatterley


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Watching Lady Chatterley made me think about the degree to which we take it for granted that foreign characters (and aliens) in movies speak English. It's strange watching a story which retains its very English characters and setting played out in French, but it's a strangeness one soon adjusts to, as there's much more here to capture one's imagination. Besides, dialogue is no more central to events than it was in DH Lawrence's novel, of which this is a remarkably faithful adaptation.

It's delightful to see it in the hands of a director who clearly understands Lawrence so well. What matter are the long silences, the gently detailed landscapes, the slow change of the seasons and the expressions on the faces of the actors - particularly Marina Hands in the central role, who is fascinating to watch throughout. The camera rarely leaves her, and much of what is going on beneath the surface of the action is revealed by her small unwitting gestures and the movement of her eyes. This might sound to some like a recipe for boredom and, indeed, Lady Chatterley won't be to everyone's tastes, but for those who like thoughtful, literary cinema, this is a delight from beginning to end.

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It's interesting to see such a straightforward adaptation of a book more famous for its political impact than for its content, for all that the affair between the lonely aristocrat and her disabled husband's gamekeeper may have seemed shocking in its time. It's told without any reference to the scandal which surrounded the novel's release, and it's refreshingly free of irony. It has, however, ironically attracted an 18 certificate, despite being really quite restrained in its handling of the sexual content.

True, it's a story which hinges on the sexual dynamic between these two protagonists, a dynamic which leads them to make other, still more fundamental discoveries about the world and their roles in it, but it is more romantic than pornographic, plain spoken rather than flirtatious. Amusingly, its only shot of an erect penis (very much necessary to the story) shows a member rather less excited than one might expect in the circumstances - a clear bid to appease the censor. It seems tragic that this work about the importance of personal freedom is still considered too corrupting for viewers, so many decades on. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves if this is a film which we would let our servants see.

Ultimately, Lady Chatterley is not about sex - it's about human relationships and human identity, and the way in which individuals find themselves restricted by the social systems of which they are a part. As such, its politics are still highly relevant today. Sex is important because it is the means by which Lady Chatterley undertakes her journey of self-discovery. It binds her to the natural world, beautifully evoked by this film's luscious photography, reminding her that she is physical, human, and something more than just the part she plays within society. With a delicate touch, the film allows us an intimate glimpse into her life and, through this, a different way of looking at the world as a whole. It's an unusually intelligent, honest, challenging film, and one which many viewers will fall in love with.

Reviewed on: 23 Aug 2007
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A poetic adaptation of DH Lawrence's classic book about an aristocrat who has an affair with her gamekeeper.
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Director: Pascale Ferran

Writer: Roger Bohbot and Pascale Ferran, based on the novel by DH Lawrence.

Starring: Marina Hands, Jean-Louis Coullo'ch, Hippolyte Girardot, Hélène Alexandridis, Hélène Fillières

Year: 2006

Runtime: 168 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Belgium, France, UK


CFF 2007
Tribeca 2007

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